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HBV Newsletter – December 2020

Beat Depression Forever with Meditation
By Dylan Charles
Source: The Waking Times

Doctors and psychiatrists are well-versed in the science of antidepressants. They’ve established a body of research showing how levels of certain brain chemicals fluctuate to affect mood, and they can chemically stabilize someone’s mood with pills.

But truly healing from depression involves many intangible factors such as diet, the support of family and friends, belief systems, self-identity, frustration with work, resolving or coming to terms with childhood trauma or past events, and so on. There really is no one-pill-chemical solution to heal people from depression.

In an article entitled, The Real Cause of Depression Has Been Completely Overlooked, Christina Sarich looks at some of these intangibles.

“Many of us with depression can think back to multiple instances of child abuse, negligence, and abandonment. We were likely raised by narcissistic parents who themselves, were abused. If our parents happened to be fairy-tale perfect, society did its own number on us, either bullying the innocent, exposing us to broken families and rampant poverty, or simply mind-controlling the heck out of us into thinking that because we don’t fit the images paraded before us, we are somehow lacking or inferior.

Our brains are trying to help us live. They become depressed and anxious because they are calling those wounds to the surface so that they can be healed. If we keep medicating them, the wounds will only crash to shore with more vengeance, until we finally understand the Higher Purpose of pain. Just as food can be toxic to our bodies, so can stress. Adverse childhood experiences coupled with real depression-instilling societal norms upheld today have created an epidemic of depression.” ~Christina Sarich

What we do know is that depression takes place in the brain. Some amalgam of thoughts, memories, and brain chemicals combine to cause it. And since it is somehow a function of the brain, then we can employ the tools at our disposal to manipulate how the brain works.

Of course the drug companies have their stake in recommending pills, but the simple (and free) act of meditation can go along way in recovering from depression.

For starters, meditation is an act that increases connection. It allows us to see clearly just how much control we have, or don’t have, over the thoughts and emotions running through the mind. It allows us to identify patterns and programs at work in the mind, by allowing us to isolate the inner happenings of the mind from the external influences inundating us each day.

Furthermore, scientific studies have demonstrated that meditation can be highly effective. In a 2016 article entitled, How Running and Meditation Changes the Brains of the Depressed, Melissa Dahl reports on one such study:

“To test this, Alderman and his colleagues recruited 52 young adults, 22 of whom had been diagnosed with major depressive disorder and referred by a university counseling clinic. (The rest of the participants were “typically healthy” individuals.) Twice a week for eight weeks, all of the study volunteers reported to the lab for MAP training sessions, during which they spent 30 minutes in “focused-attention meditation” and 30 minutes running on a treadmill. At the start of the study, they all took surveys measuring their depression symptoms, as well as a test designed to measure their cognitive control — that is, their ability to harness their own attention. They repeated these tasks at the study’s conclusion, and the researchers’ analysis shows a decrease in self-reported depressive symptoms for both groups — but especially for the group with major depressive disorder. Both groups improved their performance on the cognitive-control test, too.”

Furthermore, according to Reset.me,

Amazingly, a slew of recent studies have found that meditation does actually “shape” the brain; it corrects damage from stress, enhances connectivity between the two lobes and even promotes cell growth in key regions that are underdeveloped in depressed people, like the hippocampus. This means that meditators are changing the actual structure of their brains, thereby rewiring their emotional reactions and thought patterns to a calmer baseline on a physical level. This makes them more resilient to depression permanently.”

Although it is difficult to explain in strict scientific terms, meditation is indeed a powerful tool for overcoming depression. It can positively impact the regulation of thoughts and emotions. We even see it working in schools and prisons to help reduce troublesome behavior and violence. And we see it working to create peace in our world, and we know that with dedicated practice it can create peace in the troubled mind of those suffering through depression.

Interesting Buddhist News from around the World:
Undecaying body of the diseased Buddhist monk:

https://www.buddhistdoor.net/news/tibetan-monk-shows-no-signs-of-decay-26-days-after-clinical-death

Buddhism in Uganda:

https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2020/dec/07/ugandan-monk-bhante-buddharakkhita-buddism-buddhist-uganda-africa-mindfulness-meditation

How Jeff Bridges got his start with Buddhism:

https://www.nickiswift.com/271976/what-most-people-dont-know-about-jeff-bridges/

HBV Newsletter – October 2020

Where Is the Soul?

Various religious groups zealously campaigning for followers, the Buddha’s society produced famous speakers and debaters. They address audiences and argued in public debates, highlighting the soundness of their views. Those who impressed the public most won members to their groups.

Succhka, a strong believer in the soul, was such a famous debater with many victories.  Opponents evaded him, fearing certain defeats. Saccaka’s strength in debates is evident in his own words about himself. Exaggerating his superior skills, he once said, “If I were to engage a senseless post in a debate, even that post would tremble, so what shall I say about a human being?”

One day Saccaka met Bhikkhu Assaji, one of the very first ordained disciples of the Buddha, while Bhikkhu Assaji was going for his alms. As both stopped for a brief, friendly conversation, Saccka inquired about the teachings of the Buddha. “How does your master train his students?” Saccaka asked. Bhikkhu Assaji replied that the Buddha’s training of monks was mainly based on the teaching of impermanence. He further said that the Buddha had accepted nothing permanent in the individual or the world.

That reply annoyed Saccaka considerably because the Buddha’s was an entirely different philosophy from his. “If what I have heard from you is actually what the Buddha teaches, his view is disagreeable, indeed,” Saccaka said. He then expressed his willingness to visit the Buddha one day and to “help the Buddha dispose of his evil view.”

Keeping his promise, Saccaka one day visited the Buddha with a group of about five-hundred people. Some in the group were Saccaka’s supporters while others were either admirers of the Buddha or just curious visitors.

It is interesting how the group behaved in the presence of the Buddha.  Some had a cordial chat with him; some others bowed down in front of him; several visitors just introduced themselves to the Buddha; many others remained silent. After the initial noisy but friendly behavior, everybody, including Saccaka, gradually settled down and sat for a serious conversation.

When total silence prevailed in the atmosphere, Saccaka began to speak. “Sir, I would like to ask you a certain question. Would you allow me permission to ask it?” he told the Buddha.

 “You may ask whatever you wish to,” the Buddha replied.

Saccaka first asked about the Buddha’s view with regard to the concept of the soul in an effort to verify what he heard from Assaji. After hearing from the Buddha that he refrained from accepting such a view, Saccaka challenged the Buddha’s point of view. He gave several speculative reasons to justify the theory of the soul.

The Buddha’s counterargument was based on the analysis of the human being. First, he separated “the human being” into five aggregates: material form of the body, feelings, perception, mental formations, and consciousness. Next, he asked Saccaka which of them would be the permanent, unchanging entity. 

That question seems to have baffled Saccaka. He replied that each of the five aggregates is a part of the self. Looking at the enthusiastic audience of over five-hundred people, Saccaka then said, “This great multitude of people also thinks so.”

“What do these people have to do with you, Saccaka?  Present your own claim,” the Buddha replied assertively.

Saccaka then confirmed his assertion that all five aggregates represent the self.

The rest was easy for the Buddha. He argued that each of the five aggregates, including the consciousness, would be impermanent. When Saccaka eventually agreed with the Buddha’s claim that even human consciousness would be impermanent, the Buddha had already won the debate, for Saccaka would hardly defend a permanent entity in the ever-changing human consciousness.

The end of the debate is the most interesting part of the entire episode. Of course, Saccaka never became a follower of the Buddha, but he appreciated the Buddha’s wisdom by inviting the Buddha for lunch at Saccaka’s residence the following day. The Buddha accepted the invitation.

Majjhima Nikaya: 35; The Middle Length Discourses of the Buddha:: 322-331

HBV Newsletter — September 2020

Is Giving a Cause of Decline?
During one of his constant tours, the Buddha, with a large number of Bhikkhus, arrived in the city of Nalanda in the state of Kosala and was lodging in the Mango Grove. During that time, Nalanda was experiencing a famine. Trees and plants produced little fruit and crop. Food was not as abundant as before.This situation was not a problem for those spiritual leaders who starved themselves as a part of their religious practice, but the Buddha would not do so.  The Buddha, following the middle path, ate moderately, and he expected his ordained disciples also to eat moderately.

The Buddha’s and his ordained disciples’ regular routine was to go for alms once a day.  Wherever they stayed, they took an alms bowl and went from house to house every morning.  Once they received enough food, they returned to the dwelling and ate. When invited by a particular family for lunch, the Buddha and the Bhikkhus visited that house instead of going for alms from house to house.

Now that the Buddha and a large number of Bhikkhus had visited Nalanda during a famine, and that they were to go for alms every day, some opponents of the Buddha thought that they had an excellent opportunity to refute and discredit the Buddha.  They claimed that the Buddha, if he were kind to people, should not have visited Nalanda with a large number of monks during a famine.

After much preplanning, the Buddha’s opponents sent to the Mango Grove one headman of the city, asking him to challenge the Buddha in an argument.

After initial greetings, the headman sat down and asked his first question: “Sir, don’t you in many ways praise sympathy for families, protection of families, and compassion for families?”

“Yes, headman, I do, of course,” the Buddha replied.

“Then, why are you touring [here in Nalanda] with a large number of Bhikkhus at a time of a famine, scarcity, and drought?  You are [actually] working for the suffering and destruction of families [instead of their wellbeing]”

The Buddha replied that he had never known a family that had gone bankrupt because of giving away cooked alms. He indicated that giving itself is a sign of progress instead of being a sign of decline.

Elaborating further, the Buddha gave the following eight causes for the decline of families: confiscation of wealth by the king, robbery, fire damage and water damage to the property, failure to save wealth properly, mismanagement of wealth, having a wastrel in the family, and the universal law of impermanence.

Samyutta Nikaya 1V: 42. 9; The Connected Discourses of the Buddha: 1345-1346

Newsletter – August 2020

How to React to a Disagreeable Speech
Some profound statements of the Buddha remain unnoticed, and the following is just one of them:

“Some are extremely gentle, extremely meek, and extremely peaceful so long as a disagreeable speech does not touch upon them. However, only after a disagreeable speech reaches them, one can understand whether they are actually kind, gentle, and peaceful or not.”

This utterance indicates that one’s personality development can be tested by one’s reaction to opposing views and arguments. Any individual can be gentle when his or her views are approved by others, but the well-developed person remains pleasant even when his or her views are opposed by others.

Elaborating on what he meant by gentleness, the Buddha advised further:

“You must train yourself in the proper way [before responding to what people say]. They may talk to you at the right time or wrong time; they may tell you the truth or a lie; the way they talk may be gentle or harsh; their speech may be beneficial or useless to you; [finally,] they may speak with a wholesome intention or with an unwholesome motive.

However it is, you must train like this: “Our minds will remain unaffected, and we shall utter no unpleasant words; we shall remain compassionate for their welfare with a mind of loving-kindness, without inner dislike’”

What is most fascinating in these instructions is the Buddha’s view that the development of communication skills is not just an external act; rather, compassion toward the listener should predominate throughout the process of communication. Even though one speaks at the wrong time, tells lies, uses harsh words, offers useless and harmful instructions, and reacts angrily, still the skillful listener should keep the compassion towards the speaker intact.

Majjhima Nikaya: 21; Middle Length Discourses of the Buddha, 217-223

Vihara news
Next YouTube Live-Stream Service on Sunday, Aug. 2nd

Maha Sangha will  conduct the next live-stream morning service on Sunday, August 2nd, at 9:00 am. We are requesting parents to mark the service on calendar and participate with their children.

Vas Aradhna on Monday, August 3rd

Vassa Aradhana (invitation to the rain retreat) will take place on Nikini full-moon day (August 3rd) at 8:00 pm.

Considering the wellbeing of the monks and the community, only a few Vihara members will physically participate in the event, and all of you can participate in it through Zoom Live. We will send the link Sunday.

Vassa observance Begins on August 4th

Vassa observance by Ven. Rahula and Sirirathana Theros will take place the following day, August 4th, and will end on Vap full moon day, Oct. 30th. The day of the Kathina ceremony will be announced later.

Vassana Programs

A special Dhamma speech will be given every Saturday, and a Bodhi Puja will be held every Sunday. Notably, several distinguishing members of Maha Sangaha in Sri Lanka and in the USA will give several of the Dhamma talks through Zoom Live.

Bhante Sathi Will Give the First Dhamma Deshana

The first of the Dhamma Deshanas will be given on Saturday, August 8th, by Ven.  Peradeniye Sathindriya Thero (Bhante Sathi), abbot of the Triple Gem of the North, Minnesota. Venerable Thero is well known to the Houston Vihara community.

Anuruddha and Irani Kulatunga family will sponsor this Dhamma program. The Vihara appreciates their sponsorship.

Sponsorship of Programs

Our faithful devotees may take sponsorship of each Dhamma Deshana and Bodhi Puja and receive enormous blessings, which may be shared with their departed loved ones, wishing them the ultimate bliss of Nibbana.

In the past years, sponsoring a program means a lot of activities, including preparing dinner for the participants. However, the current situation has simplified sponsorship this year.

In sponsoring a Saturday Dhamma Deshana, it is the responsibility of the sponsor family to:

1. Invite their friends and family members to participate in the live Zoom program.

2. Offer a Parikkara (donation) to the the Bhikkhu who gives the speech

In sponsoring a Sunday Bodhi Puja:

1. You may physically participate in the Puja with flowers and the like.
2. You offer a donation to the Bhikkhu who conducts the Puja

Several families have already volunteered to sponsor some programs. On the day of Vassana invitation, the Vihara will send the list of the Dhamma Deshanas and programs for your sponsorship.

Announcement 2020/08/21

Live-stream Dhamma Talk in English by Most Venerable  Udairiyagama Dhammajiva Maha Thero:
Saturday, August 22nd, at 8:00 pm
The 3rd of the Dhamma Deshana during the Vassana season will be given by Ven. Udaeriyagama Dhammajiva Thero in English. It begins at 8:00 pm. Ven. Maha Thero is a renowned meditation teacher.

Dhamma Deshana is sponsored by Anuruddha and Irani Kulatunga  family.

Please use the following zoom link to join.
https://us02web.zoom.us/j/5087885805

Live-stream Bodhi Puja during Vassana Season by Ven. Sirirathana Thero:
Sunday, August 23rd at 8:00 pm
Venerable Karamidule Sirirathana Thero will hold the 3d of the live-stream Bodhi Puja series on Sunday at 8:00 pm. Pradeep and pramitha Matarage family will sponsor the program.

Please joint the Puja through this link:

https://us02web.zoom.us/j/5087885805

The Vihara appreciates volunteering to sponsor each program by the two families. 
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Note: Please enable original sound for the best quality sound especially when there is chanting. Detailed instructions on how to change this settings is found below. It is necessary to create a free Zoom account.
https://youtu.be/v5fiCoc6nxE for PC Laptops

https://youtu.be/tUtStq289_0 For Mobile Devices

Wishing You the Blessings of the Triple Gem!

Newsletter – June 2020

There could be more than 30 Alien Civilizations in our Galaxy

Note: This research article draws our attention for two reasons:

1. The ancient Buddhist scriptures state that there are 31 planes of existence, You can learn about that teaching here:
https://www.accesstoinsight.org/ptf/dhamma/sagga/loka.html

2. Pali Buddhist texts state that life on earth, as well as the life of earth itself, is numbered. (Sattasūriya sutta in the Aṅguttara Nikāya AN 7.66) The following research article also agree that our civilization could be short lived.

———————————————————————————-

By Adam Smith / The Independent UK

There could be more than 30 alien civilizations in our galaxy, researchers have found in a major study.

A new paper looked to understand how many planets in our neighborhood could be home to alien life, by assuming that life develops on other planets in a similar way to how it develops on Earth, and matching that to planets that could be home to similar evolution.

It found that there could be dozens of active civilizations waiting to be found in our Milky Way. But it could also shed light on our own fate, and suggest our prospects for long-term survival are lower than we may have thought.

“There should be at least a few dozen active civilizations in our Galaxy under the assumption that it takes 5 billion years for intelligent life to form on other planets, as on Earth,” Christopher Conselice of the University of Nottingham said in a statement.
“The idea is looking at evolution, but on a cosmic scale. We call this calculation the Astrobiological Copernican Limit.”

One is the ‘weak’ limit, which suggests that intelligent life forms on a planet any time after 5 billion years. The other is the ‘Strong’ limit where life formed between 4.5 billion and 5 billion years years ago.

The new research used the latter, and also assumed that these new species would need to develop in metal-rich environments. This is because human beings developed near a metal-rich environment, due to the metal present in the Sun.

Previous research from 2012 suggests a suitable “minimum stellar metallicity” required for the formation of planets that would be similar to Earth.

Researchers were then able to use those assumptions about where life may form to understand how many planets in our Milky Way would be able to satisfy those conditions.
Detecting any civilisations in our galaxy is strongly dependent on how well we can pick up signals being sent into space.

These include radio transmissions from satellites and television. If these technological civilizations last as long as ours, which has been sending out signals for the last century or so, then it is estimated there could be 36 ongoing intelligent civilizations.

While that might be the case, interacting with them would be difficult. The average distance to any possible civilization would be 17,000 light years, which makes communication very challenging.

The other scenario is that we are the only intelligent life in the galaxy, and that civilisations die out before we can detect them.

“Our new research suggests that searches for extraterrestrial intelligent civilizations not only reveals the existence of how life forms, but also gives us clues for how long our own civilization will last,” Professor Conselice said.

“If we find that intelligent life is common then this would reveal that our civilization could exist for much longer than a few hundred years, alternatively if we find that there are no active civilizations in our Galaxy it is a bad sign for our own long-term existence. By searching for extraterrestrial intelligent life — even if we find nothing — we are discovering our own future and fate.”

The new study was led by the University of Nottingham and published today in The Astrophysical Journal.

This is not the only recent news to imply the development of intelligent life in the galaxy. Scientists have found a potential habitable planet called ‘Proxima b’ around the star Proxima Centauri, approximately 4.2 light years from the Sun.

It receives comparable amounts of energy to that the Earth gets from the Sun. If there is liquid form on the planet, it could harbor life, but researchers said there is still much to be done before that can be confirmed, such as checking for the atmosphere and chemicals that could support life.

Vihara News

Monthly Sila Program and Dhamma Talk on Saturday, July 4th

Saturday, July 4, is the Esala full-moon day. The Vihara will offer two programs on July 4th for you to participate in from home. They both are through YouTube live streaming. You can join the programs here:

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCLYkdpllIW2xEyis2G1ULUw

Once you are on the page, join the live programs by clicking.

7:00 am: Administering the Eight Precepts and morning Puja

7:00 pm: Dhamma Deshana in Sinhala and Terminating Sila observance

(Since Sila observants find numerous online sources that offer Buddhist programs for them to participate in from home, the Vihara will offer only these two program tomorrow.)

Vassana Retreat Begins on Nikini Full Moon Day

All the Nikayas in Sri Lanka have come to a consensus that the Vassa season begins immediately after the full moon day in August. Accordingly, resident monks at the Vihara will observe the rainy retreat on August 4, 2020, the day following the Nikini full moon day.

You will receive a separate message with details about the Vas Aradhana, programs during the Vassana season, and the Kathina ceremony.

Next Live-Stream Service on Sunday, July 5th

Maha Sangha will conduct the next live-stream morning service on Sunday, July 5th, at 9:00 am. We are requesting parents to mark the service on calendar and participate with their children.

New Preventive Measures at the Vihara for April

New Preventive Measures at the Vihara for April

In an effort to safeguard the well-being of the resident monks and the community, the Vihara is extending the preventive measures taken previously.

Accordingly,

1. No classes or services will be held at the Vihara during April

2. Sri Lankan New Year festival and the food fair planned for April 19th has been cancelled.

3. Other than for exceptional reasons, visiting the Vihara will not be encouraged. If any of you expect to visit, please call 713 944 1334.

4. Dayaka families of the monthly Dana list are requested not to bring cooked or raw food until April 15th. Depending on the situation in mid-April, we will either continue with this decision or change it. The monks will prepare the Dana, and they have enough stocks of all raw food.

5. Daily chanting to bless the community will continue without participants from outside. Resident monks will chant everyday from 6:30 to 7:30 pm.

Please note that these measures are for the month of April only. We do not know what the trend of the country will be. Depending on how things turn out to be, we will inform you later.
May you stay well and healthy! 

Corona Endemic: Current Situation and Our Preparations towards Near Future

Corona Endemic: Current Situation and Our Preparations towards Near Future
Corona virus is raging in the USA, and the death rate is skyrocketing. At the moment of writing this message (on April 4th at 4:30 pm), total infections in the USA have passed 300,000 and the deaths 8,000. Each of the last two days, daily deaths exceeded 1000, and today by this time it is already 946, which means that today seems to be worse than yesterday.Comparatively, infections in Houston area are less, and thankfully, no known infections are there in our community so far, but we all have to be extremely cautious. I do believe and insist and implore that you take the situation seriously and follow the guidelines strictly. I am glad that our community has already taken the situation very seriously.

Extreme Fragility of the Human Being

Nothing has exposed the fragility, stupidity, and meaningless of arrogance of the human being more than what the present infections have done. We adamantly believe that we are the best and the most privileged living being on earth. Based on that belief, we manipulate everything–nature and all other forms of life–at will, just for our own comfort, easiness, and indulgence. Global devastation caused by coronaviral infections has humiliated us and brought us to the enormously embarrassing realization that our attitudes and actions are profoundly erroneous. We have to eat a humble fie.

When we blatantly abuse other living beings and nature, we believe that to do so is our right, and that they can do nothing against us. However, we have now been disillusioned. We have been mercilessly counterattacked, and when it rains, it pours.

Of course, an angry herd of lions, tigers, or elephants does not have the ability to take revenge against us—simply because we have destructive weapons, but the enemy is more innovative and tactful. It is an invisible living being that has launched this enormously effective counterattack. We are pathetically helpless.

Preparation towards Near Future: One Specific Practice

This endemic has opened our eyes and drawn us towards two practices that Americans have long forgotten: home cooking and home gardening. For most of them, eating means going to restaurants so that home cooking and home gardening are not a part of their life. Most of you, of course, do home cooking and home gardening, and this is the time to take both of the practices more seriously than ever before.

Spending time on gardening during these at-home days will not only help you beguile the tedium of your daily existence but also save your hard-earned money throughout summer and fall. Early this week, when I visited an Indian grocery store—with all precautions, of course—to buy groceries for the Vihara, I was surprised by the enormously inflated prices of vegetables. One pound of Karavila was $3:99, Vatakolu $3:99, and all vegetable prices were up by over 50%.

There is no sign that this trend will come back to normal. If farmers cannot grow now, you will experience a scarcity of your popular vegetables. Nobody can predict what will happen next, and you can grow now to face that uncertainty.

We have many gardening specialists in our community, and you may communicate with them to learn and share the most effective methods of gardening. In fact, we can grow most of our vegetables, including kale, collard green, varieties of eggplants, many kinds of peppers, tomatoes, okra, spinach,  leeks, cucumber, Karawila, Pathola, vatakolu, beans, long beans, gotukola, pumpkins, and many others. We can grow even potatoes, onion, ginger, garlic, and many spices. Self-sufficiency in vegetables not only saves your money but also make you feel proud about yourself and give you clean vegetable without harsh chemicals.

Separately, here are some interesting links that will be helpful to you:

Stay well and healthy.

May you be blessed and Protected by the Triple Gem!

Newsletter – October 2017

Newsletter – September 2017